Bohag Bihu 2024: Chefs & Home Chefs Share Food Memories
Image Credit: Chef Atul Lahkar

Bohag (or Bahag) Bihu, also referred to as Rongali Bihu, is an ethnic festival celebrated in Assam and parts of Northeastern India by the indigenous communities. Marking the beginning of the Assamese New Year, the celebrations begin on April 14 and continue for a week, till April 20. People identifying with various communities come together to celebrate this auspicious festival, worship, dance, wear new clothes, and indulge in feasts.

From a variety of pitha to protein-rich dishes, the celebrations of Bohar Bihu call for making traditional recipes and enjoying them with family, friends, and neighbours. To understand the significance of food in the joyful observance of the Assamese New Year, Slurrp spoke to chefs based in Assam, who not only shared indigenous dishes but also memories associated with the festival. 

Chef Atul Lahkar

Image Credit: Chef Atul Lahkar

Celebrity Chef Atul Lahkar, owner of Heritage Khorikaa Restaurant and Vice President of North East India Chef Association, “Bihu also marks the celebration to welcome monsoon in Assam in the month of April.” The delicacies specifically cooked for feasts include different kinds of pitha, including narikal pitha(made with coconut), teel (til) pitha (made with sesame seeds), ketli mukhat diya pitha, and more.

The chef added, “During Bohag Bihu, people cook a special dish called hundred one herbs. Assamese believe that the herbs used to make this dish have medicinal properties that can boost the immune system.” People search nearby forests to collect these herbs so that traditional recipes can be cooked.

“One thing that used to excite me about the festival as a child was catching red ants in forests, which is a risky task and my mother used to reprimand me,” Chef Atul added while reminiscing his childhood days and sharing the tradition of making red ant recipe, locally called amralu toop, at home for Bohag Bihu. Since red ants are rich in protein, they can help to build and repair tissues. “Paired with bamboo shoot or potato, this dish not only tantalises the taste buds but also provides a nutritious boost that has sustained generations of Assamese people through the rigours of rural life,” he added.

With over 28 years of experience in the culinary world, the chef believes, “In a world where modern diets often prioritise convenience over nutritional value, the traditional practices of Assamese cuisine serve as a reminder of the wisdom inherent in eating according to the rhythms of nature. As we navigate an era marked by health challenges, perhaps we can take a cue from the Assamese and embrace the nourishing power of foods that not only satisfy our hunger but also fortify our bodies from within”.

Chef Santa Sarmah

Chef Santa Sarmah, who was the first runner-up of MasterChef India 2023 and winner of Rengoni Grihini Superstar season 2, said, “In Assam, there are at least 101 varieties of pitha that are made during celebrations of Bohag Bihu, including til pitha, xutuli pitha, kol pitha, rongalau pitha, etc.”

She shared that the first day of Bihu, called Goru Bihu, has the ritual of taking cows to the nearby water bodies for a bath, applying turmeric, and feeding them fresh vegetables and fruits so that they produce more milk. In the night, there is a ritual of making saag with 101 fresh vegetables and herbs and pairing it with other accompaniments. Another dish prepared on this day is called sator torkari, a form of mixed vegetable prepared by cooking all the vegetables that were earlier fed to the cows. Following Goru Bihu are Manuh Bihu, Gokhai Bihu, Tator Bihu, Nangol Bihu, Senehi Bihu, and Sera Bihu. 

The first day of celebration is also referred to as Uruka’ for which a feast is prepared that includes everything that people like to relish, including duck meat, pulses, a variety of fish using an array of traditional techniques and recipes, bamboo chicken, bamboo fish, etc. “Assamese celebrate Bihu thrice a year, starting with Bohag Bihu. No matter which Bihu we are celebrating, it is the most exciting time of the year for me because I grew up in a colony where families would come together to prepare for the festival, go shopping together, and enjoy feasts at each other's homes on different days of Bihu,” the 35-year-old chef added. 

Chef Santa Sarmah is known for showcasing delectable Assam on her Instagram and other social media handles. She strives to spread more knowledge about Assamese cuisine through her content. This year, Chef Santa will be celebrating the festival by making a variety of pithas, chicken, and mutton dishes.  

Chef Gitika Saikia

Chef Gitika Saikia, who is a home chef and runs Gitika's PakGhor, said, “Seven days of Bihu are important, but the celebrations go on for a month. Because it is the Assamese New Year, people visit Namghars, Relatives and Friends which goes on for a month. Speaking about celebratory food, the chef added, “When you say Bihu, various types of pithas come to mind.” The list of the variety of pitha includes til, ghila, amlori (red ant eggs), Polu leta (silkworm pupae), Haaj (rice beer) etc. “We have a lot of vegetarian and non-vegetarian items,” she added.

Belonging to the Sonowal Kachari community of Assam, Chef Gitika Saikia shared that they have a ritual of consuming red ants and a dish made of 101 vegetables (101 haak bhaji) that one can find in their backyard on the Goru Bihu (cow Bihu day). The festive spread also has fish, pork, brewed rice wine, and silkworm among other dishes.

“One of my fondest memories is consuming a dish made of red ants with duck eggs. It is not eaten throughout the year or the month owing to its availability and season, she added. This year, Gitika Saikia will be making patot diya horu maas, alu tita phool pitika, matimah gahori khar, steamed rice and chutney, bhut jolokia pork gongura leaves, narikol pitha, nangol dhuwa pitha, ghila pitha, and more.